Guardians of the Galaxy #1 hits stores today, a new series by Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven that hopes to boost the profile of Marvel's space-faring super-team ahead of next summer's movie release, so that when your non-comics friends ask you, "Who are these Guardians of the Galaxy?", you don't answer, "the who-dians of the what-now?"

But... who are the Guardians of the Galaxy? They're actually talking owls from a series of fantasy novels about... no, sorry, my editor is telling me that is not correct. Let's see... the series tells the story of Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Sandman and... no, I'm getting another note here, hang on... A talking raccoon and a tree? That can't be right.

If you're feeling a little confused, don't panic! ComicsAlliance is here to tell you everything you need to know about the Gladiators of the Gridiron! And then some.

The original Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in 1969 in Marvel Super-Heroes #18, by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan. They were a 31st century team of four men from different worlds who banded together to fight the Badoon, a race of reptilian aliens named after the sound of a firecracker in a toilet.

Charlie-27 was a space soldier and space pilot (like a soldier and a pilot, but in space) who was permanently stuck in the wrong aspect ratio. Martinex was a genetically engineered Iceman impersonator made out of hard candy. And Yondu was an archer with a head-fin, who once won me a pint when a friend challenged me to name five Marvel characters with names beginning with Y. Thanks, Yondu! All three were the last survivors of races wiped out by the Badoinkadoink.

But the main member, the generic square-jawed human lead, was Earth astronaut Vance Astro. He was placed in suspended animation inside a fancy preservation suit and sent out into the cosmos to find a new world for the human race to colonize, but he woke to find that the human race had already changed its address and sold his stuff. His reward was that he was trapped in his spacesuit, the human equivalent of a vacuum-sealed bag of meat that you're not sure is still good but you're too afraid to open. He overcompensated for all of this by taking the name "Major Victory", because his teammates refused to call him Duke Broseph of the Fistbump.

Vance Astro was also a mutant with psychic blast powers, and he's notable for having a main Marvel Universe counterpart in Marvel Boy of the New Warriors. Yes, this character was in the Guardians and the New Warriors. If he can also get in to the Micronauts, his next macchiato is free.

L-R, top: Yellowjacket, Aleta, Starhawk
Bottom: Yondu, Nikki, Major Victory, Charlie-27, Talon

Later recruits included Starhawk (strident bothersome god-type) and his body-sharing incestuous adopted sister Aleta (wears really deep Vs); Nikki (head permanently on fire), Replica (Skrull), Talon (Thundercat), Firelord (head permanently on fire), and Yellowjacket, a woman with such low self-esteem that she modeled herself on Hank Pym's least celebrated superhero identity.

The Guardians also had a spin-off team brilliantly called Galactic Guardians, which included versions of Wonder Man, Vision, Ghost Rider and Phoenix, because everyone in the 90s was utterly terrified of giving up a new idea in case they needed them later to defect to Image.

Of course, you don't need to know any of this. Not a jot! The original Guardians were a super-team in a possible alternative future; the current Guardians exist in the contemporary Marvel Universe and have literally nothing to do with the previous team!

L-R: Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Star-Lord, Adam Warlock, Drax, Phyla-Vell

The current Guardians of the Galaxy came into being in 2008 as a continuation of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's Annihilation stories exploring the far cosmic reaches of the Marvel Universe. The initial line-up actually shared more in common with the Infinity Watch, Jim Starlin's cosmic team that were the self-appointed keepers of the all-powerful Infinity Gems.

The Infinity Watch and the new Guardians both included the space messiah Adam Warlock, created by Lee and Kirby and Roy Thomas and Gil Kane and known to his friends as Him (oh, Him); Starlin's own Gamora, a woman raised and trained by Thanos to be a living weapon; and Starlin and Mike Friedrich's Drax the Destroyer, of the East Hampton Destroyers. Drax is a normal human trapped in a huge, powerful, massively muscular green body, which is an idea so good I'm amazed no-one thought of it before. Boy, I hope they can pull that off for the movie.

There's no real high concept behind the Guardians of the Galaxy; they're superheroes in space. They guard the galaxy, I guess? They don't guard the universe, because that would mean handing out tacky green rings to swaggering braggarts like some self-important fraternity president. Boring!

The real purpose of the Guardians of the Galaxy under Abnett and Lanning was to provide a place to showcase some of Marvel's weirdest, grooviest, most Marvel cosmic characters. The outer edges of the Marvel Universe have always offered up an entertaining blend of ambitious New Age intensity and goofball apocalyptic militarism.


Thus the Guardians became the new home for gruff plushie Rocket Raccoon (created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen); sword-wielding badass Marvel kid Phyla-Vell (Peter David, Paul Azaceta); giant sentient tree-thing Groot (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers), swashbuckling insectoid actual Micronaut Bug (Bill Mantlo, Michael Golden), wack-a-doodle celestial tree-hugger Mantis (Steve Englehart, Don Heck); Soviet space dog Cosmo (Lanning, Abnett, Wellinton Alves), and Drax's daughter and the team's all-time greatest member: bald bisexual kung fu telepath scientist Moondragon (Bill Everett, Mike Friedrich, George Tuska), a character so great that Moondragon is only her second best code name; her best is Madam MacEvil. The team also found room for a version of Major Victory, and for his fellow Captain America fanboy, Jack Flag.

But the main member, the generic square-jawed human lead, was Earth astronaut Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord. Created by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan, Star-Lord is your basic alpha dog white hat hero dude. He's a space cop, like Hal Jordan, but without all those bothersome fans. His dad is a space emperor named Jason, but obviously that sounds a bit dorky, so they've changed it to "J'son", which is not dorky at all. Oh, and he used to have brown hair, but now he's another Steve Rogers/Hank Pym/Clint Barton blond, and that's... exciting. We don't see male heroes experimenting with their hair much in comics. It's a very valid form of self-expression.

Star-Lord is joined in the new series by Groot, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora and Drax. This is the first time these members have come together in this exact configuration, but the roster is meant to match next year's movie. Presumably some Marvel executives hand-picked this roster for maximum toyetic potential, and they left out Moondragon because putting Space Beyoncé on the team would make Star-Lord look like Space Dave Matthews.

The new roster also features a bonus Iron Man, because every new Marvel team must include one Iron Man, one Wolverine, or an Asgardian assigned at random.

And that is everything you need to know about Guardians of the Galaxy, and a great many things you don't need to know. Now when your friends ask you, "Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy", you can say, "It's the team that's meant to have Moondragon on it." You're welcome.

(And if they ask you to name five Marvel characters with names beginning with Y: Yondu, Yellowjacket, Yellow Claw, Ymir and Yukio.)